Ian Gabriel, the South African director of recently released film Four Corners – which depicts gangster life in the Cape Flats – says that he’s “quite philosophical about the piracy that’s happened” around his film. While he doesn’t condone copyright infringement, he is “pleased that the film is reaching” people who wouldn’t have seen it in the cinema, but will respond to its “message of pride and self recognition and of choice for ordinary people that the film is delivering”.
At the same time the South African distributor for the movie issued an appeal to viewers who have seen illegally produced copies of Four Corners to see it on the big screen as well as a gesture of support for what Gabriel says is “if not the first Coloured film in South Africa, certainly the biggest, with over 60 speaking parts”.
Four Corners, which opened in theatres at the end of March, has been in the headlines thanks to the prosecution of Majadien Norton, who is accused of sharing a digital version of the film via The Pirate Bay. Norton’s trial – which is postponed for plea bargaining and set to conclude on April 17th – is the first of its kind in South Africa and will set a precedent for future online copyright enforcement. The case against Norton was brought by the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) which accused him of being the primary source of both online distribution of the film and DVD copies on the streets.
While the case is indeed a landmark for South Africa, Gabriel agrees that debate surrounding unauthorised online distribution needs to be nuanced than simple trial and retribution. “The conundrums that leave freedom of information grappling with societies’ ability to protect creative expression have implications much more far reaching than the incidental piracy of this one film suggests,” he adds.
Gabriel’s comments were made to htxt.africa via email in a personal message accompanying his production company’s official statement on the case (which is reproduced below). According to the director, who laid out a very coherent discussion of the issues surrounding online copyright infringement, the company still hasn’t confirmed the original source of the leaked file which was used to produce DVDs for sale on the streets. Gabriel believes, however, that screener copies sent overseas may have been leaked. He denies reports that cast and crew members were distributing copies in the Cape Flats, and also says that news reports that the film was available on street corners as early as September – three months before files appeared online – are incorrect, as production was only completed in October.
“We believe that the film was pirated at some time during cinema test runs or during freighting and couriering to foreign destinations for festival submissions in early November,” Gabriel says.
While there was some confusion over the fact that the cinema release was delayed twice, Gabriel explains that this was down to interest from overseas as a result of early reviews.
“As a result of the film receiving the Best Foreign Film nomination at the International Press Academy Awards in Los Angeles,” Gabriel says, “And its subsequent very strong press reviews, the producers and distributor of Four Corners decided to shift the release of Four Corners from end February to end March, in order to secure a wider release pattern for the film. Incidentally the four months from completion to release of the film constitutes a comparatively rapid turn around by industry standards for a film that was in development and production for seven years before completion.”
Lawyers will ultimately decide the fate of Majedien Norton, who is ironically himself now potentially a victim of copyright theft after YOU magazine and several other outlets lifted pictures of both himself and his children from his Facebook page, but Gabriel is realistic about the future relationship between the internet and film makers.
“I think the way people think now digitally they don’t see piracy as piracy any more,” he says, “They see it as sharing. We will definitely not get as many people to the cinemas as we would have if the film were not pirated. At the same time, there are people who have seen the film who would never have got to the cinema. I’m pleased the film is reaching those people because there’s a message of pride and self recognition and of choice for ordinary people that the film is delivering and its important that message be heard.”
Gabriel goes on to say that he has obvious concerns for the financial future of filmmaking, but that in the face of technological change he’d prefer a consensual dialogue about how films get made between viewers and producers, rather than heavy-handed law enforcement that criminalises those who share files without permission.
“In the long run, piracy unchecked will literally mean the end of film making,” Gabriel explains, “That’s not a great thought to contemplate. Movies and movie-making is one of the great cultural gifts humanity has given to itself in the past hundred years. We need to protect that gift and make it grow – it’s a cultural benefit for us all that is as valuable as the democratisation of information that the internet now affords us.
“Films can only be made as long as the high costs of production, and remuneration of crew, cast, musicians, etc can be taken care of by means of sales, either in cinemas or on digital platforms. There is value in the current discussion regarding internet rights and creative rights. I suggest in order to continue to enhance our quality of life, creative rights of origination need to be secured on some consensual level, probably not through aggressive policing, but rather through a common sense approach to the protection of creative endeavour for the benefit of all.”
Now wouldn’t that be a thing indeed?
Four Corners’ Impact and the Piracy effect ( Official Statement)
Indigenous Films, the distributors of the award-winning South African movie Four Corners, which released this week, have announced that Four Corners has been aggressively pirated for months prior to its release, turning the film into an instant cult classic in some areas of the country.
“This constitutes a massive loss to our South African box office,” says Indigenous’ Helen Kuun, “But we’re doing all we can to get the film out there and seen on the big screen by as many South Africans as possible.”
“From hearsay evidence at some cinemas where the film is showing, we have definitely lost a portion of the viewers in those areas to piracy. The vast majority of the piracy has happened on street corners and on municipal trains, through CD sales. We have no idea of the impact of the internet downloads and the extent to which these downloads may have contributed to the manufacture of tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of copies of the film that were then flooded into the market, according to tabloid reports and hearsay originating in the communities concerned.
“The film has had fantastic reviews both locally and internationally, with critics calling the film an ‘absolute must see’. We’re very pleased with the positive impact the film is having on big screen audiences wherever its showing. The only way that the writers, actors and musicians can get rewarded for their work on Four Corners and other SA films is by receiving support for the film on the Big Screen, so that’s where we’re encouraging all our audience to watch the film.
“We received so much support from the Cape Flats community in the making of the film, and many of the audience who saw pirated versions have said they’ll support the film on the Big Screen at repeat viewings over the coming weeks.” says director Ian Gabriel. “Now’s the time to make good on that promise.
“To give us the chance to make more movies like Four Corners we need viewers to support the film in the cinemas. If we can count on an upward spike from viewers in areas where we know piracy has occurred, that will do the films distribution the world of good and demonstrate that the South African film industry and South African viewers are loyal to locally made films and local actors.”
Meanwhile the debate around Four Corners continues, with film critics, community leaders and piracy commentators all weighing in and the films Facebook page rapidly approaching 22 000 and its twitter following at 2 000. See Four Corners, decide for yourself and support local film making on the Big Screen.